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Questioning U.S. wars: Exercise of conscience seems to be the only answer

Twenty-five “Minnesotans for Peace” recently traveled to Washington to deliver a message to our elected representatives before the president’s “State of the Union.” We were able to read the names of the 77 young people from Minnesota who have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in front of the White House. And some in our group were arrested after they simply lay down on the sidewalk symbolizing the enormous tragedy of the millions of civilian and soldier lives that have been lost in the ongoing wars.

Ultimately President Obama gave a great speech emphasizing his wonderful vision for the future of our country through new job creation, improving educational opportunity, investment in America’s infrastructure and his hope for a return to economic prosperity. The president only spoke of the costly wars he has chosen to escalate toward the end of his “State of the Union” report. But does not the tail wag the dog?

It does not appear to us that the lives lost and trillions of dollars that have been poured into these counterproductive wars over the last eight years (and counting) have won any hearts or minds in the Mideast, nor have they succeeded in reducing the threat of international terrorism. So we asked a lot of questions.

No benchmarks articulated
Our peace delegation was able to meet on Capitol Hill with many of our representatives and/or their staffs, (Klobuchar, Franken, Kline, Oberstar and Ellison). However none of those we met with was able to explain how it is possible to “win” or even what future benchmarks Congress could use to evaluate whether progress is being made toward that goal. The last time our government published any information quantifying international terrorism was in 2004 (less than three years into the wars) and, at that time, the level had increased exponentially. The State Department’s annual terrorism report was immediately discontinued. Over eight years after the Bush administration instituted its “war on terror,” the government must still want to keep the bad news secret, even from Congress.

If there is no way to even find out this basic information, how can Congress assess if the Af-Pak escalation is “working”? We were met with blank stares.

We then asked whether changes in the level of American casualties could be used to measure the progress. We mentioned that Ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey made a dire prediction: “What I want to do is signal that this thing (Af-Pak escalation) is going to be $5 billion to $10 billion a month and 300 to 500 killed and wounded a month by next summer. That’s what we probably should expect. And that’s light casualties.” One young congressional staffer who has studied foreign policy and military affairs (but without any military experience of his own) told us that increased American deaths would not be relevant or helpful in determining the war’s effectiveness.

What about the debt?
The last difficult question we posed to our elected Minnesota representatives was how can the reckless spending be brought under control and the national debt reduced when an unprecedented $740 billion is to be spent on the military and wars this next year? A staffer told us that Congress raised the debt ceiling last month to an unfathomable $12 trillion! That debt figure is more than double the $5.6 trillion the Bush administration had when it started the wars. The national debt comes to $100,000 for each American family! How can fiscal conservatives not question the trillions being wasted this way? How can President Obama’s hopes for economic prosperity be realized with a debt burden this high? Why are U.S. military contractors allowed to gain huge war profits at the same time as saddling our children and grandchildren with crushing interest payments on this debt?

Our group had to leave Washington without the answers. But we do not intend to wait in silence for them to respond. Since our current president and Congress do not appear capable of pulling the country out of the “war on terror” begun by the Bush administration, it will, of necessity, fall to the American people to exercise their constitutional rights and their consciences to pull us out of the bloody quagmire we find ourselves in.

Coleen Rowley, who retired in 2004 from a 24-year FBI career, is a frequent speaker on issues relating to ethical decision-making and the need to balance national security and civil liberties. In 2002 she brought to light several pre-9/11 intelligence lapses. In 2006 she made an unsuccessful bid for Congress, challenging Rep. John Kline in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 02/02/2010 - 08:26 am.

    This war is bleeding us white in more ways than one. Losing wars, or at least not winning them, is bad for the economy and terrible for the stock market. One only has to look as far back as Vietnam to see why. Maybe that’s why stock investors have earned a zero return over the last decade? I hope Petraeus is able to achieve his ambitious goals. The fate of governments depends on it.

  2. Submitted by Robert Palmer on 02/02/2010 - 08:56 am.

    These wars are not about defending the United States. They are about providing corporations access to foreign resources and enhancing our geopolitical power. Our society is being destroyed from within by the corporate greed of the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned against. The American people need to wake up as their future and the future of the planet is at stake. We need peace not war to survive.

  3. Submitted by myles spicer on 02/02/2010 - 09:53 am.

    In a sense, these current wars are a world gone mad. First we bomb the crap out of a country (Iraq) at a cost of billions of totally wasted resources; then we rush in there and spend billions more to rebuild the stuff we destroyed?
    It is bizarre.

    In Iraq, we got rid of a bad dictator — that is true. But the sectarian violence continues, and will continue well into the future, because it is imbedded in the culture of the coutnry and the region. Dozens killed in Iraq just within the past few days alone.

    The bottom line is, we have no concept of what we are doing…the dynamics of the region…a strategy for exiting…an understanding of the reprocussions of our actions…or any intelligence about the outcomes. History has given us lessons (many in fact) in previous and similar scenarios, but we seem doomed by ignoring them.

  4. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/02/2010 - 12:27 pm.

    Thank you, Ms. Rowley. Keep writing.

    The military budget remains sacrosanct, witness Pres. Obama’s exclusion of it from proposed budget cuts. Yet it is at or near the root of our most serious problems, politically and economically, hand-in-glove with the foreign policy that has harmed our country so dearly in recent years.

    Reasonable reductions of the military budget will force a change for the better in our foreign policy, and provide economic benefits far exceeding those reductions.

    Some experts estimate the indirect costs of these wars will exceed the direct costs (i.e., costs which actually show in the military budget). They have been funded mainly by supplementary authorizations on borrowed money, and so don’t show up in the formal budget numbers. This money must be repaid, along with interest – another indirect cost. The long term cost of caring for the 30,000+ wounded soldiers for the rest of their lives is yet another indirect cost, and is likewise very substantial.

    The point is, you can’t tell how much our military is costing us by looking at their budget, which is merely a fraction of the real cost. The military budget should not be “off limits” as we look for ways to reduce expenditures, present and future.

  5. Submitted by Mary Beaudoin on 02/02/2010 - 08:20 pm.

    Yes, Coleen–It’s up to we the people to pressure for an end to the bloodshed and financial drain that is impoverishing this country morally and monetarily. People need to hit the streets and let it be known that they won’t stand for killing people in other countries and depriving people of needs here! Here’s an opportunity to join voices across the country on the 7th Anniversary of the U.S. War on Iraq. Locally in the Twin Cities, the following will be held in solidarity with Anti-war Rally and March: Out of Afghanistan, Out of Iraq! Troops Out Now! Saturday, March 20, 1:00 p.m., Gather at MayDay Plaza, 3rd and Cedar Avenue (West Bank), Minneapolis. March to closing rally, location TBA. National day of protest to mark the seventh anniversary of the war on Iraq. Activists will unite in a call for an end to the U.S. wars on and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and demand funds for housing, education, healthcare and human needs. Sponsored by: Iraq Peace Action Coalition (IPAC). Women Against MM is a member of IPAC. FFI: Call 612-522-1861 or 612-827-5364.

    Also, people can come to the weekly vigils to end the war on Iraq every Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.

  6. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 02/03/2010 - 03:26 pm.

    Iraq: WMD
    Iran: “Intends” to develop nukes with which to bomb countries as far away as China, but Israel is closer and Israel actually fears such a bombing from a country that has invaded no other since the 1700s.

    Iraq: Dictator, evil, gassed his own people (true, but cause for destroying whole country?)
    Iran: Dictatorial fundamentalist religious regime, harms/kills any who oppose it (true, but cause for destroying whole country?)

    Iraq: Oil, oil, oil (for which we destroyed whole country while “helping” it achieve peace and democracy, partly by “helping” it rewrite its constitution so it allows extremely advantageous terms for US and other transnationals to drill new wells)
    Iran: Oil, oil, oil and also uranium (for which we may have to destroy the whole country to bring peace and democracy for its people while assuring our supplies of their resources).

    U.S.A.: A beacon of truth and justice, democracy and capitalism, helping rid the whole world of the Axis of Evil so it can be at peace.

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